Proposed cuts to the legal aid budget for family law cases could see families struggling to resolve their legal disputes.
The radical cuts which are due to come into effect in the spring will see great changes for family law case funding. Whilst grants for parents locked in care disputes will not be affected, divorce, separation and financial disputes related to children will all be allocated fewer resources.
Many people have relied on legal aid in order to fund their family legal case and whilst legal aid will not be removed completely, the changes mark a significant cutback. As a result a much smaller percentage of the population will be eligible for such financial support.
At the moment, the only barriers to legal aid are financial eligibility and the strength of the case and anyone who fulfils the criteria will receive such funding from the Legal Services Commission. Under the new proposals, the same requirements will apply, but the type of case will also be taken into account and it is widely expected that legal aid will largely be limited to victims of domestic abuse.
It is predicted that just 15% of the cases which currently qualify for legal aid will still be funded following the changes. Therefore, in cases where domestic violence is not thought to be an issue, parties will be expected to either sort the matter out between themselves or even attempt to represent themselves in court should they find that they are unable to pay the legal fees of their family law solicitors. As a result couples who separate or wish to resolve disputes over child residency or contact may find themselves struggling to find solutions.
Whilst cutting legal aid may save money in one sense, it is likely to increase pressures on the court system where public money will be spent on cases which need not have gone to court or take longer than the need to. Furthermore, cutting legal aid will cause families, especially children, enormous stress.